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Researcher studies, treats military with 'silent disease'

For nearly four years, a researcher in Washington, D.C., has been working toward tracking how servicemembers respond to treatment for the "silent disease" hepatitis C.

Dr. Maria Sjogren, a retired Army colonel and hepatologist, which is a doctor who specializes in treating liver disease, has enrolled 90 active-duty servicemembers in her study at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center. The virus, which affects the U.S. military at similar rates as the civilian population, causes tiny scars to form in the liver and can prevent blood from flowing freely through the liver. The disease has earned its silent reputation because 80 percent of the people who have it have no symptoms.

While working at her clinic at the military hospital, Sjogren noted that at least half of her patients tested positive for the hepatitis C virus. She then started wondering about how servicemembers were faring with treatments and how the disease affected the quality of their lives. From the start, Sjogren wanted to answer specific questions for servicemembers who have Hepatitis C: What happens to these people over time? How does it affect their quality of life? What happens when you treat them?

"We just don't know what the impact of hepatitis C is. The rate of hepatitis C has been studied in the military but not the outcomes," she said. "Nobody has talked to them as a research population ... and captured the story the way we do."

Sjogren's research endeavors were funded by a grant from the DoD's Peer Reviewed Medical Research Program. Congress created the program in 1999 to promote research in health issues the military faces. Since its inception through 2005, the program has spent almost $300 million to fund nearly 200 projects in a range of medical topics, including combat casualty care and technology and infectious disease research like Sjogren's.

Once members from any of the military services were diagnosed as positive for the hepatitis C virus, their doct
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Source:US Department of Defense Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs


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